The Push: A insider player perspective at what it takes to be a postseason contender
Confetti fell from the rafters, champagne spewed all over and there were grins from ear-to-ear on every single member of that locker room.
That’s what Brian Carroll will always remember when he looks back on the days he helped two different teams capture MLS Cup titles. The first was in 2004, when a direct contribution on his part (assist) propelled D.C. United to its fourth MLS Cup title and then again when he along with current Union color commentator Alejandro Moreno hoisted the crown in Columbus in 2008.
Now as captain of the Union, Carroll is in a tight race to help his current team make the postseason, made tougher by a string of losses and one of the tightest races to the finish quite possibly ever in the history of MLS’ Eastern Conference.
But in a recent interview, the one trait Carroll said this season’s Union collective has that mimics the team he’s won titles with is chemistry -- evident in his opinion both on and off the field.
Watch: Brian Carroll gets mic'd up
“First of all, it starts with chemistry,” said Carroll. Having a good bunch of guys, goes a long way and I think we definitely have that here. Also, it is just taking care of the little details on and off the field, doing the little things in competitive games, and in possession, and making the smart decisions.”
Chemistry and that belief in each other has been evident in a run that found the Union among the top five in MLS’ Eastern Conference for over half the season. Now, with a week to regroup the Union head to Kansas City (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network) to see if they can regain that form – against one of the best teams in the league.
“It’s going to be tough,” Union manager John Hackworth said about the upcoming clash with Kansas City. But we’ve been a team all year that’s come up with some firsts for our club and, in particular, we’ve been pretty good on the road. We’ve gone to some places that are traditionally very hard — and we haven’t done well in — and we’ve gotten results. So, that’s our focus right now.
“I always put things on the performance and the process. And the process of training and our performances — I still say we’re in pretty good form right now — we just have to translate that into results so that the perception is that we’re doing both. Because it is, no question, a result oriented business and we have to get those points.”
Carroll likes to focus more on the last part of Hackworth’s statement and add that it trult is less about the opponent and more of what the Union need to bring both individually and collectively in this match to garner points.
“Everyone just being on board, no matter what their role on the team is and continuing to do their role to the best of their ability is what is going to make us successful,” said Carroll. “I think that’s really what I remember from the teams I was a part of that managed success is that we believed in ourselves, we didn’t get swept up in outside talk. We can’t afford to do that now.”
Going from having your heels nipped to now being the club nipping at the heels of those in front of you poses a challenge, however it’s a challenge Carroll believes this Union team is prepared for over the next five weeks. It’s never been a matter of the Union creating chances, but now is the time to make no mistake about finishing those and not relying on outside influences to dictate the outcome -- more importantly, which team captures critical points.
After all, that’s what playoff caliber teams do.
“It is hard to explain, but [to get to the playoffs] you just need guys are just on the same page, on and off the field,” said Carroll. “Everything that is going on inside the locker room, on the field, and outside the field, you need it to be happening in the correct and positive direction, I feel like a group that we have here can pull that together can do that in the last five games of the season.”
And Brian Carroll would be the first to know.
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Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at email@example.com